Grey-fronted Honeyeater Nesting

Day 1 Tuesday 18th November 1997 (Start of nest)

A Grey-fronted Honeyeater began to construct a nest about two metres from my office window this morning at the Argyle Diamond Mine in the north east Kimberley of WA.  Spider webs appear to be the main construction material with some short (10 to 15cm) thin grass providing the backbone.  By 9am the main shape of the cup nest was apparent. I have watched the Grey-fronted Honeyeater bring in material regularly about every 5 to 10 minutes since about 8am when I found the nest.  Most construction is done with the bird sitting in the nest.  At 10am the nest appeared to be about a third completed.

At 9:20am I saw a bird fly in, and I realised that it was a Brown Honeyeater.  It began to rearrange the nest for about 5 minutes before the Grey-fronted returned and chased it off.  This seemed remarkable that another (smaller) species would try to take over the nest.

So far I have only seen one Grey-fronted Honeyeater this morning, but they are common and I noticed a pair outside my office yesterday several times.

The Brown Honeyeaters nested about 5 metres away at the end of August and fledged one young from two eggs in early October.  I also found a Grey-fronted nest about 20 metres away at the end of August but the nest fell off the tree before any eggs were laid.  I have found many Grey-fronted Honeyeaters breeding over the years, but this is my first record for November.

The nest is exposed in the dead thin twigs at the end of an acacia that was blown over in a storm a couple of days ago and is resting against the roof of the building.  The nest is two metres off the ground and is just underneath the eaves of the building which will give some protection from future storms.  Hopefully our gardening crew will leave the fallen tree until the young have fledged.  A Common Tree Snake was seen in the area last week, and that could be another potential predator.  The very common 'ta-ta' lizards (Gilbert's Dragon) can be predators, but the nest is far enough out in the smaller twigs such that a ta-ta lizard would have trouble reaching it.

Day 2 Wednesday 19th November 1997 (Nest building continues)

Only one bird is building the nest.  The other very occasionally observes from a branch a couple of metres away.  The bird was less active later in the day (roughly after 11am).  Perhaps there are more spider webs early in the morning?  The active bird several times scraped its bill against a branch after bringing material into the nest.  Perhaps rubbing some web off its bill?  The other bird several times chased off one or two Brown Honeyeaters.  The nest looked almost finished by the end of the day.

Day 3 Thursday 20th November 1997 (Mating & Brown Honeyeaters)

The bird is now frequently bringing in a 'woolly' material similar to the material from a kapok tree but I don't know of any bush close by.  The material is used to line the nest.  i.e. just put in the nest rather than woven in.  Every three or four visits the bird would pack it down with its body or sometimes apparently with its feet.  The visits were very frequent with the bird only away from the nest for a couple of minutes.  The second bird inspected the nest a few times but did not do any work on it.  Who builds the nest?  The male or the female?  Perhaps the female was inspecting the nest?  I wonder if the active bird is feeding as there doesn't seem to be enough time between visits.

A Brown Honeyeater again revisited the nest at 8:15 (for about 30 seconds) and 15:00 (for a couple of minutes).  It was a young juvenile/immature with a yellow cere, no yellow spot and its bill was half black half yellow.  It is quite possible that this was the young fledged in late September early October.  i.e. only 8 to 10 weeks old.

The building of the nest appeared to stop at about 10am.  They were seen mating about 4 metres from the nest at 11:45.  At about 14:30 some more material was brought to the nest, and the bird appeared to 'lick' the nest several times with the bird having its mouth open while in the nest.

Day 4 Friday 21st November 1997 (Nest finished & more Brown Honeyeaters)

Both birds are in the vicinity of the nest.  One is spending a fair bit of time on a branch about 2 metres from the nest and preens a lot of the time.  Some more material was brought in at about 6:45 and again at 7:15.  The second time some rearrangement was done.

The preening bird wiped its bill on the branch a few times, so perhaps yesterday it was coincidental that the active bird did it after visiting the nest.

At 7:45, three Brown Honeyeaters visited the nest (two adults and an immature).  They spent about 5 minutes in the vicinity of the nest with no sign of the Grey-fronted Honeyeaters.  One adult Brown Honeyeater removed some lining from the nest, followed by the immature tugging at one of the grass stems.  The adult returned and sat in the nest for about a minute.  The Grey-fronted Honeyeaters returned about 7:55.

At 8:20 the juvenile Brown Honeyeater visited the nest.  It tugged briefly at the attachments to the twigs, before sitting in the nest for about 3 minutes, followed by about 1 minute on a twig within 30cm of the nest before being chased away by a Grey-fronted Honeyeater when it returned.

It is this interaction between the two species that is the most surprising for me.

At one point the pair of Grey-fronted Honeyeaters were at the nest and one 'shuffled' its wings and then both flew off a few seconds later.  I had also observed this a couple of times on the day before.

When I returned from lunch at 11:30, the Grey-fronted Honeyeater was sitting on the nest for the first time.  It wasn't tucked right in (it was more sitting across the top).  It left the nest at about 11:50 when someone walked past about 3 metres away.  By climbing on a chair I checked the nest but there were no eggs.

Day 5 Saturday 22nd November 1997 (No much activity)

I only saw the Grey-fronted Honeyeaters 5 times during the day.  One bird brought more lining material to the nest twice just before 7am and it made some adjustments to the nest structure.  Otherwise there was almost no activity all day.

Day 6 Sunday 23rd November 1997 (Still not much activity)

I only saw one Grey-fronted Honeyeater at 6:15am.  There were no other sightings for the whole day.  I checked the nest for eggs but it was empty.  An adult Brown Honeyeater came close to the nest but did not actually visit it.

Day 7 Monday 24th November 1997 (First egg laid)

There was one egg when I got to work at 6am.  It is a pinky brown colour (like a brown chook egg).  There was a bird at the nest which chased away a Brown Honeyeater.  It then started regularly sitting on the nest from soon after 7:15am until about 10:30am.  It sat on the nest for 3 to 8 minutes at a time.  It was away from the nest for up to 10 minutes.  It was always alert twisting its head to look around.  It appears to only be one bird that sits on the nest.  I saw a second bird only twice.

After 10:30am the bird came near the nest on a number of occasions.  It would call or sit on a branch from 20cm to 1m away.  The first few times it sat on the nest for a few times.  I did not see a Grey-fronted Honeyeater after 1pm.  There was still only one egg at the end of the day.

Note that day time temperatures are currently 28 minimum to 42 maximum.

Day 8 Tuesday 25th November 1997 to Day 21 Monday 8th December 1997 (Time off in Perth)

I had returned to Perth so I have no observations from this period.  There were a few heavy rain storms.

Day 22 Tuesday 9th December 1997 (First egg hatched)

I checked the nest at 6:15 and there was one tiny nestling that appeared to have only just hatched possibly that morning and one egg.  The second egg had not hatched by the end of the day.

Most feeding during the day was done by the bird that was not on the nest (the male?).  When this happened, the bird on the nest (the female?) would fly off as the other approached.  On one occasion the other bird approached but did not have any food and the bird stayed on the nest.  The bird on the nest only seemed to feed the nestling when it returned to sit on the nest but not on all occasions.  The bird on the nest was always alert moving its head and looking around.  Several times it seemed to stand up and rearrange the nest or the nestling before sitting down again.  The bird was on the nest more in the morning and the later afternoon than during the middle of the day when several times it was on a twig within 30cm of the nest.

The second bird attacked a 'ta-ta' lizard on the ground about six metres from the nest twice during the day.  The second time the bird on the nest left to assist.  Why they chose these two times was not apparent.  There are up to about six lizards in the close vicinity often directly below the nest.

The second bird also very aggressively chased the Yellow-throated Miners at least four times, with the bird on the nest assisting twice.  This surprised me as the Yellow-throated Miners are amongst the most aggressive birds at Argyle and are often seen chasing Great Bowerbirds and sometimes Magpie-larks.  There is a group of 6 to 8 Yellow-throated Miners that hang around the mess about 40 metres from the nest.  They were only chased by the Grey-fronted Honeyeaters when they were within about 10 metres of the nest, and they never came anywhere close to the nest.  There were times that the Yellow-throated Miners appeared to be left alone.  I assume that they were competing for food?

When I left at 17:55 it was getting quite dark and the bird was on the nest.

Day 23 Wednesday 10th December 1997 (Second egg discarded & heavy rain)

I checked the nest at 6:45 and there was one nestling and one egg with a hole on the top.  I checked again at 10:00 and there was no egg and there appeared to be only one nestling.  I checked again at 15:00 and there was only one nestling.  What happened to the second egg/nestling?  I am confident that it wasn't predated, so I suppose that the adults carried it away choosing to only raise one young?  The nestling was not strong enough to have knocked the egg out of the nest.  There was no sign of the egg or nestling below the nest, but the lizards would probably have eaten it quickly anyway.  The Brown Honeyeaters that nested nearby in September were the same and only raised one nestling from two eggs.  I have seen the Grey-fronted Honeyeaters raising two young in August 1993, October 1993 and September 1994.

The feeding was the same as the day before with the addition that the second bird removed a faecal sac on at least two occasions and flew off with it.  The second time the bird seemed to swallow the sac.

They again harassed the Yellow-throated Miners on a number of occasions.  At 17:35 I was about 20 metres away from the nest watching two male Zebra Finches fighting when a Grey-fronted Honeyeater came in and broke them up.  It was not the bird that was still sitting on the nest.  The Zebra Finches resumed fighting about a minute later.

It started raining fairly heavily at 14:00.  The bird on the nest had turned side on to the building rather than its normal position of facing away.  It was protected from the direct rain by the eaves of the building, but it was getting wet.  At 14:25 there was only very light rain and the second bird arrived.  The first bird left and the second bird drank the water drops hanging on the twigs near the nest and then it used its tongue to apparently lick the nest as though it was drying it. It did this again at 14:43.  When it arrived it fed the nestling an insect with wings (about the size of a flying termite) but then took it straight back and ate it.  Perhaps it was too big?

When I left at 17:55 it was getting quite dark and the bird was on the nest.

Day 24 Thursday 11th December 1997 (Feeding, chasing competitors, more rain)

The feeding was similar to the previous days with the bird on the nest leaving when the other approached with food.  This time the nestling could eat the larger insects.  It appeared to be about double its initial weight.  Several faecal sacs were taken away.  The bird on the nest appeared to make adjustments to the nest or nestling on a number of occasions.

They again chased Yellow-throated Miners and a couple of times they attacked 'tat-ta' lizards in trees including one in the same tree about 3 metres from the nest which they chased onto the roof.

There was very light drizzle at 12:20 until about 12:32.  The bird only spent a very short time on the nest in its normal position facing away from the building.  At 14:05 light drizzle started again building up to heavier rain and thunder at 14:10 dropping to light drizzle by 14:43.  The bird stayed on the nest in its normal position for the whole period. It was fairly windy for a short period which moved the nest around slightly.  On two occasions a person approached to about 1 metre from the nest but the bird stayed on the nest and didn't seemed disturbed.  At 14:43 the second bird flew in to feed the nestling.  The bird on the nest hopped off and sat back on the nest about 30 seconds later.

When I left at 17:55 it was getting quite dark and there was no bird on the nest.

Day 25 Friday 12th December 1997 (No longer tucked in at night!)

The activity was very similar to the previous day.  One adult continued to sit on the nest for short periods especially in the morning and the later afternoon after it became very windy at 15:30.  Most feeding was done by the other bird.  They continued to chase the Yellow-throated Miners and a ta-ta lizard (Gilbert's Dragon) that was on the trunk of the tree.  The nestling was begging a few times while both birds were away.  The adult no longer sits on the nest overnight.

Day 26 Saturday 13th December 1997 to Day 27 Sunday 14th December 1997 (Becoming more alert)

The adult only sat on the nest a few times although it spent quite a bit of time very close to the nest.  The other bird continued to do most of the feeding.  At one point I approached the nest and one bird flew in quietly and sat on a small branch about 1 metre away and looked at me.  The wind picked up on the Saturday at 14:15 but the adult did not sit on the nest.  The nestling several times during the day had its mouth wide open while the two adults were away.

Day 28 Monday 15th December 1997 (More rain)

The main events were two short periods of rain.  The first period at about 13:40 lasted about 25 minutes and produced 5mm.  As the rain started the adult arrived and sat on the nest until the rain stopped.  The adult sat on the nest quite often for short periods between the two rain periods.  The second period was preceded by strong winds about 16:50 that knocked a branch of a nearby tree.  The heavy black clouds made it very dark.  The honeyeaters have chosen their nest site very well as the nest doesn't move around much even in the very strong winds.  The adult arrived and fed the nestling shortly after the wind started and sat on the nest until shortly after the light rain started at 17:00 when the wind had dropped.  They continued to chase the Yellow-throated Miners plus a Magpie-lark that was feeding on the path about 4 metres away.  A couple of the Yellow-throated Miners were missing tail feathers but they could have been moulting.  A Great Bowerbird came into a tree about 5 metres away but the Yellow-throated Miners chased it off.

Day 29 Tuesday 16th December 1997 (Feathers forming)

I was out of my office for a lot of the day so I didn't observe very much.  The nestling is now much bigger and the feathers are forming over most of its body except for most of its neck.  It is a lot more active moving around the nest and sticking its head up above the top of the nest.  A large insect was given to the nestling but then taken back and eaten by the parent.  When the adults feed the nestling they appear to wait for a short time after and on the two occasions the nestling pointed its rear end up and the adult removed a faecal sac and took it away.  The Yellow-throated Miners were feeding a juvenile.

Day 30 Wednesday 17th December 1997 (The brooding has finished)

There was a Common Tree Snake (Dendrephalis punctulata) on the ground about 10 metres from the nest.  One Grey-fronted Honeyeater was keeping an eye on it from a branch about a metre above the ground.  The Environmental section relocated the snake.  Both birds are now feeding the nestling and the adult no longer sits on the nest.  Pale caterpillars about 3cm long are now part of the diet.  When the adult finds one, it takes it to a branch and knocks the caterpillar against the branch several times before flying to the nest and feeding the nestling.

Day 31 Thursday 18th December 1997 (Nestling very active and preening)

Both adults continue to feed the nestling with caterpillars being a regular food item.  Pale downy feathers are now forming all over the body and colour is starting to appear on the back and crown.  The nestling is very active now and is regularly preening.

Day 32 Friday 19th December 1997 (Gardeners)

Both adults continue to feed the nestling with caterpillars being a regular food item, although on one occasion the adult ate the caterpillar and then appeared to clean its bill on a leaf and against the branch that it was perched on.  The adult then preened losing at least one body feather.  One adult was in a small shrub about 1 metre from my window and was using its tongue to lick the stems.  I checked the shrub and could find nothing in the way of insects or sticky substances.  The nestling continues to regularly preen.  The gardeners slashed the grass and low vegetation and heavily pruned the shrubs in the garden.

Day 33 Saturday 20th December 1997 (It exercised its wings)

The feathers are now well formed although the back and crown are grey/brown with only a little of the yellow/green tinge of the adults.  The underparts are a pale yellow similar to the adults although with less streaking apparent.  There are still a few pale downy feathers.  The bill is shorter fatter and more 'lumpy' than the adults and is yellow with a blackish spot near the end.  The tail is almost non existent.  There is a small tree about 5 metres from the nest that is infested with dark small (about 15mm) thin caterpillars but I have not seen the honeyeaters in this tree.  I did not see the adults until nearly 7:30 when they both fed the nestling.  The nestling then stood on the edge of the nest and vigorously exercised its wings while both adults were close by.  The nestling climbed on to a twig about 5cm from the nest while flapping its wings before returning to the nest and continuing to preen.  I noticed some droppings on the ground below the nest for the first time.  It exercised its wings again at 8:55.  It spent most of the day preening or sleeping.  At about 14:05 it looked like a bittern sitting upright in the nest with its neck stretched up and its eyes closed most of the time.  It remained like this for about 10 minutes.

Day 34 Sunday 21st December 1997 (It has fledged!)

It had left the nest by the time that I arrived at work at 6:00.  I quickly located it on a branch in a shrub about 5 metres from the nest and about 1 metre above the ground.  There was a gentle breeze and it was slightly unsteady.  The yellow green colour is evident at the end of the wings.  Its face (mostly the lores) is black with no evidence of the black and yellow plumes on the side of the neck. At 7:30 it was still in the same bush but about 1.5 metres above the ground.  I couldn't locate it at 11:30 although I didn't spend much time.  The adults were chasing Yellow-throated Miners.  I found the fledgling again at 16:15 near the top (about 4 metres high) of a thin acacia about 8 metres from the nest when an adult flew in to feed it.  At 16:30 both adults were foraging in a tree about 3 metres from the nestling.  The nestling flew over to join them when the two adults were together.

Day 35 Monday 22nd December 1997 (Flying and THE END)

It is now very hard to observe since it is not outside my window.  It was seen in the same tree as the day before.  It is more active moving around through the tree and still being fed by its parents.  There was a storm late in the afternoon with very strong winds.  Hopefully the adults taught the fledgling where to shelter.

Another Grey-fronted Honeyeater has entered the world.  May it live a long life.

Copyright Frank O'Connor 1997-2002 Visits Last Modified 31st January 2002